Stereoscopic Mandalas

Updated 4/24/08

This section was developed in conjunction with and as an adjunct to NightWalking.

The Stereoscopic Mandala

To test our theory about second sight, we needed to find a way to isolate it. After reviewing some of the literature on perception, we found that indeed there was a way to do it -- stereoscopic images.

In the 1950's it was discovered that the ability to see stereoscopic images necessitates visual information passing through the corpus callosum, a huge band of myelinated fibers that connects the two cerebral hemispheres. In short, stereopsis is a whole brain activity. To see a stereoscopic image you must be using both brain hemispheres, there is no other way. Therefore it must follow that a stereoscopic image is seen with the mind not the eyes, and in fact such an image exists only in the mind.

The stereoscope was invented in 1838 by Charles Wheatstone and required special photographs or images to view. However, it is possible (and practical we might add) to view the everyday world in a stereoscopic way.

There are only three conditions which absolutely preclude stereoscopic vision:

1. blindness in one eye.
2. strabismus, a condition where the eyes won't work in parallel.
3. the corpus callosum has been severed by surgery or accident. A very few individuals are born with this condition.

For some unknown reason about four to five percent of college students fail to experience stereoscopic vision in classroom tests. In most cases it's probably a matter of having a very dominant eye and/or lack of practice.

It's possible to experience stereopsis without specially prepared images by using the peripheral regions of the retina. To do so requires identical images set side by side and the placement of the point of focus either in front of or behind the image plane.

Hold your eyes 12 to 18 inches from the screen. Put the tip of a finger between the circles. Watch your finger tip as you slowly move it from the screen toward your nose. With your peripheral vision, gaze at the circles. At some point they will overlap and you can see three rows, each with three circles. Keep practicing until you can remove your finger when the center circles "lock".

It's interesting to note that when they "lock" the word you read in the bottom center circle indicates your dominant eye. The middle row of circles is only seen with your peripheral vision and is done so by directing your focused vision above or below the screen surface, out of the way so to speak. We've called these images Stereoscopic Mandalas.

Examining the following mandala and understanding how the eyes and brain create a third image by fusing the two, it would at first glance seem that the resultant image should be a checkerboard. However, "retinal rivalry" occurs and you will see a patchwork of vertical and horizontal areas whose borders fade in and out and change positions.

With a little practice you can consciously "will" the stripes of the above image to appear either horizontal or vertical. In effect, with your mind you can switch eye dominance. It's an exhilarating experience to realize you have this ability. Further, we haven't found anyone who can verbalize just how they make the stripes switch. Apparently it is a deeply non-conscious process.

Watch the center image flicker

Gaze until you see a "+" in the center circle.

The Master Mandala can be seen in three different ways or at three different levels/degrees of stereopsis. After the image stabilizes, expand your vision until you can see all of the circles and then finally the surroundings. After you progress you'll be able to stay in stereopsis while you examine each circle individually. If you can count them your Gaze is becoming advanced. Next, practice shifting smoothly from level to level. Practice with the Master Mandala (and others in this section) until you can complete the expert qualifications (see below).

It should become evident that these Mandalas require a different visual process than that of, say, reading which employs focused vision. You are seeing something that isn't literally there, but instead a synthesis of the two objects.

When first learning, a degree of eye strain may be experienced, so gaze a few seconds at a time until you can see stereoptically in a relaxed manner. One way is to "watch" the edges of the mandalas in the beginning, which seems to help "snap things into focus." At some point it will become very easy and you can gaze for hours if you wish. Notice that the word "watch" two sentences ago is in quotation marks -- so marked because in our culture seeing, in general, is assumed to be foveal vision. Westerners don't make a distinction between central and peripheral vision, which is an indication that culturally we have little knowledge of the experience of peripheral vision.

Master Mandala

Gaze and experience the three different "levels".

Level One ------------- Level Two ------------ Level Three

The following mandala provides a way to test stereoscopic abilities. Gaze at it in the prescribed manner and attend to the center of the "center" square. There is something to notice which is impossible to see in any other way.

Expert status is attained by the following:

1. create the "third" image in a Stereoscopic Mandala at will without aids.
2. switch eye dominance at will.
3. control the degree of stereopsis at will and examine each circle of the Master Mandala while using your Gaze.
4. see and enjoy what's hidden in the test mandala.

By this time in our investigations we had learned to make the stereo images on computer and were having friends try them out.

We prepared Stereoscopic Mandalas for several dozen individuals and showed them how to create the third image. Among the group there were varying degrees of interest. Almost everyone developed to the "Master" level and those who did reported a change of internal experience after viewing the images for 10 to 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, the whole experience seemed to them to be more of a curiosity than anything else. It was a pleasant one which occasionally tended toward the profound, but still a curiosity. One of the gauges we used was whether anyone would continue to use the images after a week or two, and most didn't. To use experience with stereopsis as proof for our thesis would be a long stretch. What's your experience?

Your task is develop the ability to shift the point of your visual focus (VEN) at will.